Cursing around the kids

Via Ed Champion comes a hilarious story from Tod Goldberg, the upshot of which is that Tod gets called out by a parent for using the phrase “serial killer” while a child (of indeterminate age) is within earshot. He wonders why parents are constantly pulling this sort of nonsense. Ed points out that while he tries to limit his fucks when he knows children are present, some invariably escape, and parents act outraged. (Their posts are both funnier than this summary, so you should read the posts.)

A few comments, because I’ve been thinking about cursing recently:

  1. The “serial killer” parent needs to unclench, and, on behalf of all parents, I apologize to Tod Goldberg. If you can’t spin a nonsense definition of “cereal killer,” then you shouldn’t be allowed out in public with your child, and your child should be required to wear earplugs. Frankly, I’d be disappointed if my kid didn’t, after hearing that phrase, look down at an empty bowl at breakfast and say, “I’m a cereal killer,” or if he didn’t call *me* one if I finished a box of cereal.
  2. I also absolve Ed for his fucks, especially as he tries to limit them.  In general, I give a pass to people who aren’t involved with kids at home on a daily basis.  There are really only three categories of cursers who drive me crazy:
  3. –Preteens and teenagers. Because they’re cursing to show off their protoindependence, these kids–or at least the ones who irritate me–tend to curse *more* if they’re around a kid and a parent. This is, of course, infuriating, because 4-yr-olds think preteens and young teenagers are awesome. Bastards. Thus far, not reacting to the cursing has seemed to work.

    –People who absolutely lose it in public over some minor inconvenience, because they’re not emotionally competent. (Not because it’s a genuinely bad day.) Since the thing that 4-yr-olds struggle with is managing affect, witnessing this is a doubleplusungood.

    –Parents who curse at their kids, even affectionately, in public. At the public pool, for instance, there’s one guy who insists on loudly calling his 6-yr-old son “my motherfuckin’ nigga.” There’s another mom who spends her time at the kiddie pool on her cell phone, periodically screaming at one or another of her kids to give the other one “the god-damned toy.” I’m not here to judge these parents for how they speak to their kids. And if I were invited to their homes, I’d not say a word about it (though I might be slow to return). But we’re in public. At the kiddie pool. If someone curses freely at their own home, we can explain to the 4-yr-old that different homes have different rules, and he accepts that. But that answer doesn’t work in public situations.

  4. Since I have been known to curse in front of students, it is perhaps surprising (or, if you like, hypocritical) that I don’t curse at home. We’re just not ready for the 4-year-old to start dropping f-bombs, mostly because we’re not totally sure of his grasp of social settings. (It’s not hard to imagine him meeting, say, the provost, and giving him a “Glad to f*cking meet you.”) As a result, we try to keep the aural environment tidy.
  5. Parents who reproach other people for cursing in public are, I suspect, engaged in a weird sort of projection, because casual comments don’t register with kids as “worth repeating.”  Kids key off the parents’ reaction.  If you make a big stink over some expletive, or over something as trivial as “serial killer,” you’re just spelling out for your kid what buttons to push.
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